When I was very young, my parents owned a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It had multiple speed playback and twin tracks. My sister and I played with this thing for hours, making funny noises, over-dubbing sounds, and generally having a high old time.
I was hooked. As they often say, “the colours are better on radio”. Theatre of the mind, where your imagination fills in the images from the sounds alone. I have a particular fondness for sound effects records, and ambient sounds of real places in particular. It’s just another of those myriad creative pastimes I’ve developed through my life.
Have a search around the interweb and you’ll find numerous projects which aim to capture for posterity sounds of the every day mundanities of life. Things like birdsong in an urban environment, the sound of a stream trickling through a culvert, the 8.15 to Harpenden… that kind of thing. A favourite is the London Sound Survey. Sound, for many, is something we don’t often think about, and with most of us plugged into headphones or earbuds, blocking out the world around us, it’s easy to lose that audible connection with our surroundings.
Anyway, last year, Best Beloved and I invested in a modern digital audio recorder. We’ve owned various analogue and digital recorders over the years, but most were strictly linear in form. You recorded the sound, you played the recording back, and if you wanted to get the sound into another format you had to transfer it real time. No accessing a digital file in those days. Now, with the new toy, we could make a recording, and get it into the computer for editing with a few clicks of a mouse.
Long story short, we are steadily building a library of some commonplace sounds of our modern world—and some of our not-so-modern world. To that end, I’ve set up a SoundCloud account where we can share the edited recordings with the world. The first playlist I’ve created is of recordings made on the Severn Valley Railway, Shropshire, last year. For best results, play back through good speakers, or a good set of headphones.
It’s a terrible affliction, and one which I find myself suffering more as I get older. That feeling when, perhaps, you’re listening to a favourite album and it suddenly smacks you between the eyes that you bought it for the first time 35 years ago. You’re suddenly transported back to those days, and you can’t help feeling things were better then than they are now…
See? How can things be worse now than three decades ago? Ridiculous! Look around you! Look at how marvellous our world is.
How marvellous our world was, perhaps. My species is rapidly outgrowing its home planet, with precious little thought to what happens when the resources run out. “Someone else will sort that out for us,” seems to be the consensus. “Someone clever will solve all our problems, so we don’t need to worry about it now.” We carry on being told to consume all we can, and so we do.
For the first half of the 20th century, life for ordinary people was tough. If you were lucky, you had a job, your health, and enough money put by that you could perhaps consider a short holiday by the seaside once a year. You couldn’t hope to own your own house, or a car. If you were unlucky, you struggled to survive, reliant perhaps on charity to get by until something turned up.
Further afield, the world in general was not a happy place, with conflict and things to generally make life harsh and short for most people. If you were wealthy, however, the world was your oyster. Some had managed to make a large fortune for themselves and their offspring, mainly by exploiting the labour of the poorer members of society.
In some countries, men came to power that promised to make life better for all. They blamed all of society’s ills on ethnic minorities, or anyone who wasn’t “like us”. People believed in their special kind of message, and so the world turned. Eventually, things went too far, and the poor and disadvantaged were plunged once more into a conflict not of their making.
In 1945, after this particularly savage global conflict had finally ended, the returning soldiers, sailors and airmen decided they wanted a world that would be better for everyone and not just those that could afford it. What is now known as the post-war consensus was formed. Many industries were taken into government hands and run for the benefit of all. A universal healthcare and welfare system was set up to ensure no-one would suffer unduly from ill health, and there was something there to catch you and help you get back on your feet if things went wrong. New social housing was built, slums were cleared, education was improved, the world began to look bright and hopeful.
By the 1970s, things weren’t looking quite so bright. Industrial strife gave nationalised industries a bad name, and some politicians began to point to a brave new world where privatised and deregulated businesses could solve all the ills of our world. Slowly but surely, everything the returning servicemen and women from the Second World War had built was taken away again. It’s taken four decades, but even the sacred cow of the National Health Service is being slowly devoured, sliced and diced to the highest bidder.
It struck me today that the calibre of those who built our post-war society was much higher than those who think they should run things today. In the 1940s and 1950s, I suppose the founders of the new Britain hoped their children would learn to run things well, and so it proved for a while. Where things have taken a wrong turn is difficult to say, but perhaps the so-called Baby Boomers “had it so good” and really did think it would last forever. They didn’t teach their offspring as well as they might, it seems, and the result is we’ve got a bunch of career politicians who don’t have a clue about much.
Disaffection with the political classes, the intense feeling that former industrial areas are wilfully ignored by the elites in Westminster, has led to a collapse in our political system. We see the rise of the far right—across Europe and beyond, it has to be said—and such political organisations tap into the general dissatisfaction. It’s all the fault of the “others”, those ethnic minorities, the “immigrants” and “migrants”.
Supposedly sensible people—like me, for example—tend to want to make fun of the new species of demagogue that is arising in the world. The Nigel Farages and Donald Trumps of this world won’t ever amount to much, we tell ourselves. They’re fringe politicians, their followers are not the mainstream of political thought.
Then the Farages and Trumps begin to win.
“There’s no way Trump could win the Republican Party nomination.”
“We won’t vote to leave the European Union.”
“But there’s no way Trump can win the presidential election.”
I find myself thinking, after everything else that’s happened so far in 2016, that we had better prepare ourselves for a Donald Trump presidency. The world, it seems, has turned almost a full circle. Where it will end, I don’t know. I’d like to be optimistic about things, but I rather think it won’t end well. You don’t need to guess who will suffer the most, whatever the outcome.
Ticket To The Moon ELO, Time, 1981
Words and music by Jeff Lynne
Remember the good old Nineteen Eighties, When things were so uncomplicated, I wish I could go back there again And everything could be the same.
I’ve got a ticket to the moon I’ll be leaving here any day soon Yeah, I’ve got a ticket to the moon But I’d rather see the sunrise, in your eyes.
Got a ticket to the moon I’ll be rising high above the earth so soon And the tears I cry might turn into the rain That gently falls upon your window You’ll never know.
Ticket to the moon Fly, fly through a troubled sky Up to a new world shining bright.
Flying high above, Soaring madly through the mysteries that come, Wondering sadly if the ways that led me here, Could turn around and I would see you there, Standing there
Ticket to the moon Flight leaves here today from Satellite 2 As the minutes go by, what shall I do, I paid the fare, what more can I say, It’s just one way.
Telford was an excellent exhibition, a credit to the organisers and managing crew. I spent the weekend talking, buying, and ending up tired out! I handed finished models to clients, and collected some new commissioned work. I think it was a good show.
As is now our habit, we stayed in the Telford area for a couple of days after the exhibition. Our plans were flexible, with museums and the Severn Valley Railway high on the agenda. Monday saw us visit the Blists Hill Victorian Town. The link explains what the place is all about, and it proved a pleasant afternoon of wandering about. I spent much of the time cursing my DSLR, which is really cursing myself for being thick. I really need to get out with the beast more often and learn how to drive it properly again.
Our last day we went to Bridgnorth and visited the SVR. We took the digital sound recording gear, in the hopes of more excellent recordings such as we had last year. Sadly, I hadn’t slept at all well the previous night, so our visit was somewhat curtailed. I still haven’t had a chance to edit the recordings we made. In fact, I’ve not even listened back to them, which is quite telling on what I think about them.
So, that’s the Big Exhibition over for another year. Back at home, I spent the rest of the week nursing a toothache and setting out plans for the year ahead. I have, it seems, a lot of work to be getting on with!
It’s September, so that means it’s Guildex, the annual shindig of the Gauge O Guild at Telford. This year is a big one, because the Guild is celebrating their 60th birthday. For the past couple of years I have been a guest demonstrator as part of the Just Like The Real team. This year, I’m attending as a paying punter, for various reasons.
I do enjoy demonstrating at exhibitions. (By “demonstrating” I mean showing how I do things, rather than waving placards and shouting slogans!) Best Beloved and I were very regular exhibitors at model railway shows for many years, but we stepped back a little from the limelight when we did 14 exhibitions in a year. That’s a lot of weekends, when you think about it. We found we didn’t have time to prepare and repair the models before the next show was on us, so we called it a day.
Since I’ve been trying to build the modelmaking business, I’ve been keen to attend as many shows as I can. Most often I’m as a paying customer, but it is nice to be asked to be an exhibitor—if only because the parking gets a bit easier!
So, this year, I’m a visitor. As a Guild member, I’ve got a ticket for a measly fiver that lets me and Best Beloved visit the show on both days. As a wandering entity, I will be able to talk to more people, see more of the show, and generally cover more ground than when I’m tied to a demonstration table. Well, that’s the plan.
It also means I can meet clients and hand over completed models, like the ones above, as well as discuss new commissions and collect more boxes!
We don’t generally do holidays, but we treat this annual expedition to Shropshire as a short break. We will stay on for a couple of days, and do some sight-seeing. It’s a nice part of the world, and worth visiting without the attraction of a model railway exhibition. Of course, it means I’m currently in the panic stage, worrying about booking into the hotel, finding parking at the exhibition venue, whether we’ve forgotten something and so on. I’ve made a check list, but I bet there’s something obvious I shall forget, probably because I didn’t put it on the list!
There he is, reclining across my test track, near an open window. Billy-puss has now been living with us for just over two months, and he has definitely decided this is his forever home.
Billy-puss, the helping cat. Helping to distract me from paying work would be more accurate!
Billy-puss, the supervisor. He likes to stamp his approval, and here he is making sure I was weatherproofing the Big Shed properly.
Just a perfect Billy-puss size. Sadly, he soon discovered this gap on the workbench shelving was earmarked for non-furry things.
Billy-puss investigating the cause of a loud crash at the front door the other day. A bumper issue of the Gauge O Guild Gazette, filled with AGM and exhibition news, made a serious dent in the mat!
When you can’t find him, it’s more than likely Billy-puss is snuggled up in the alcove under our coffee table. He will happily spend most of the day in there. It’s out of the way and, more importantly at this time of year, reasonably cool.
Cuddles are definitely a thing. He does like to be groomed—and with long hair we’ve very nearly got enough fluff collected to make a pair of gloves.
Best Beloved and I are very happy that Billy has decided he likes living here. He has more than filled the gaping hole left by Sophie. Let’s hope Billy Whizz will be with us for many years to come.
One of my earliest commissions, some years ago now, was to build three Collett coaches from Just Like The Real Thing kits. Who would believe another different client would commission three almost identical coaches a year or so later!
These models are all to 1/43rd scale, 7mm to 1ft, and Finescale O Gauge. As they will run as a semi-permanent set, the client requested Kadee knuckle couplings between the vehicles, leaving the standard screw-link couplings at the outer ends. The livery is the first British Railways “blood and custard”, which was applied to gangwayed passenger stock from 1948 until 1956. Although virtually impossible to see, the interiors have been fitted out as authentically as possible, and the guard’s compartment is fully detailed as well.
In case you missed it—although it would be hard to do!—I am a professional modelmaker. I take commissions to build chiefly UK-outline railway subjects to 7mm scale. You can see more about my work on my web site, follow me on Twitter (@HKModelmaker) and find my page on Facebook (search for @HeatherKModelmaker).
This isn’t a terribly well organised or thought through post. I just wanted to get the idea out there, so please forgive the somewhat random nature of what follows.
I have come to the conclusion that our civilisation has peaked.
What do I mean by this? Since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the progress of Western civilisation has been steady. Yes, it took bloodshed to give us the rights we hold dear, but conflict has also driven progress, particularly in the technological sphere.
A couple of centuries ago, the Industrial Revolution brought mass production of goods, massive improvements in transport and cities that began to grow exponentially. We began to explore our world, to learn about its limits, and—sadly—to exploit much of it. Natural philosophers discovered gravity, how light works, and made the first stumbling steps into understanding the very building blocks of our universe. We looked up and out, beyond our own planet and dreamed of distant places.
We lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation, it is true. A stalemate between two opposing forces, which came almost to blows on many occasions, yet which didn’t prevent society making progress. Civil rights, gender equality, all started in the years following the end of the Second World War. We put men on the Moon!
Yet, as I sit here, tapping away at this keyboard into the ether of another of mankind’s inventions, I can’t help feeling we aren’t making progress any more. Despite the evidence of science, religion is still here. Superstition still has a hold over many millions of our species. Diseases once thought extinct are making a comeback. A world population that’s grown by over four thousand millions since I was born half a century ago is beginning to take its toll on ecology and diversity of our home planet. We were warned about the harm we were doing to our planet, and now it’s virtually too late to stop its effects.
That was a bit depressing. Sorry about that.
I now think, despite iPhones and Internet and jet aircraft and microwaves and organ transplants and space stations, our society has peaked. I think the pinnacle was reached in July 1969, when three men left their home planet, landed on and explored another world, and came safely home to Earth. That, my friends, was the apogee of Western civilisation and Western science. Ever since, for better or worse, we have been in steady decline.
I don’t have an answer, even if I thought there was one. Was there even a question? As I said, this thesis hasn’t really been thought through.
The workshop has seen a few builds come to a conclusion—or near conclusion in one case—in the past couple of weeks. Sometimes I find commissioned work gets bogged down for various reasons, and oddly this seems to get worse the closer to completion a model gets. I can’t explain why, but it’s probably to do with lots of little bits and pieces, sub-assemblies and paint jobs all taking their time to come together.
Just completed, aside from one or two quality control issues that appeared after the appointment with the official photographer, is an etched brass kit of a Mk1 RMB (Restaurant Miniature Buffet). This has been a rather protracted build, due in part to ineptitude on my side, and it being a complex kit of several thousand components.
The model represents an RMB, dating from the early 1960s but still running in service in the early 1980s. The kit was adapted to show the modifications and upgrades made to the vehicles over the years. Modifications included strips down the sides of each door, designed to prevent corrosion, and the inclusion of air braking and electric train heating equipment in addition to the vacuum braking and steam heating.
The Diagram 99 Restaurant Miniature Buffet coach was built with Commonwealth bogies, weighed in at 38 tons, and could seat 44 passengers in two saloons either side of the bar area. The smaller saloon was designated as non-smoking from new. This particular vehicle was built at BR’s Wolverton Works in north Buckinghamshire in 1960 as part of Lot 30520, and it was originally allocated to the Scottish Region. The model is built to a scale of 1/43rd, 7mm to 1ft, and to ScaleSeven standards. A lot of research was needed to get the underframe details as accurate as possible, enhancing an already comprehensive kit.
This view shows some of the additional braking equipment fitted below the frames. The interior of the coach is also fully modelled—though, sadly, the client didn’t want scale representations of styrofoam cups, stale cheese sandwiches or concrete pork pies!
The buffer beam detailing was interesting and challenging, with the requirement to fit the extra air brake pipework and ETH sockets.
The kit’s designer knows the real thing intimately, and has managed to capture a lot of the subtle detailing of a Mk1 coach in his kit. It is probably safe to say this is about the most accurate Mk1 kit on the market today. As a build, it has been challenging, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately rewarding. There are parts I wish I could have done better, but that seems to always be the way with professional modelmaking.
I build railway models, mainly O Gauge (7mm scale), professionally. You can see more of my work, and read a little about what I do for a living, at my web site. I also have a Facebook page (@HeatherKModelmaker), and you can follow me on Twitter (search for @HKModelmaker).
It’s been two weeks since we woke to a slim vote to leave the EU. Since then, having been a remainer, I’ve been through the shock, grief and anger stages. It affected me badly, and is still affecting Best Beloved.
I am still very angry. Angry at the mendacity chiefly from the leave side, angry at the ignorance, angry at what the result has unleashed, anger at those having perpetrated things then decided to just point the finger at everyone else and leave the stage. Anger, too, allied with frustration that the entire political class seems intent on in-fighting rather than sorting out the mess we find ourselves in.
Anger, though, doesn’t change much. We are where we are.
There’s a slim chance the whole thing can be kicked into the long grass. The vote was only advisory, has no bearing in law. The government would be stupid to ignore the vote, but the longer they take to enact Article 50—the official starting pistol for the true leave negotiations with the EU—the more likely it could be some kind of deal to remain properly in the EU would happen.
The thing is, despite petitions and marches, grumbling on social media, and the more traditional hurling obscenities at the television news bulletins, the only people who can do anything about anything are currently embroiled in leadership contests. Until that mud slinging stops, and of course the summer recess and conference season has passed, nothing will happen. We remain in limbo until at least October this year, as our world unravels.
It’s almost as if the politicians don’t care about what’s actually happening out here, in the real world. In their little Westminster bubble, they play their silly games as if it’s all that really matters. It is almost as if there is no constitutional crisis, no urgency to sort the mess out, nothing to worry about at all. Crisis? What crisis?
What we must do, those of us still angry about being told to stop grumbling because we “lost”, is hold our so-called leaders to account. If we have to leave the European Union, we must make damned sure we get the best possible deal, and we must fight tooth and nail to make certain those likely to be hardest hit by leaving will be given as much aid and support as they currently get from the EU.
There’s also the small matter of rebuilding our society. Fourteen days seems to have opened the cracks that many of us had thought filled and lost for several decades. All that has been undone must be done again.
It’s not going to be easy. We must each learn to direct our anger, to channel it to make sure that whatever happens we get to build a great future from the ruins of the past.